OAKRIDGE -- In less than two years, University of Oregon alums Oliver Alexander and Orion Falvey have transformed their vision for better health care into Lane County's newest medical clinic: Orchid Health.

The clinic, which is holding its grand opening today, started as a business pitch Alexander and Falvey made at an Oregon University System-sponsored student competition in 2012.

Since then, the business students have thrown themselves into the medical field, raising more than $100,000 in startup funds and recruiting a doctor, family nurse practitioner, mental health counselor and support staff.

It has only been a week since the clinic, on Highway 58 in Oakridge, opened its doors in a low-key soft opening.

But already more than 150 Oakridge, Dexter, Lowell and Fall Creek residents have enrolled for care, Alexander said. And 44 people came in for appointments in the last week.

Their goal all along has been to offer rural residents -- many of whom are on the Oregon Health Plan or uninsured altogether -- a chance at affordable health care.

Orchid Health members pay a flat monthly fee and become eligible for unlimited primary and preventative care appointments. The rates are $39 a month for anyone up to 35 years old, $49 a month for ages 36 to 49, $59 a month for residents aged 50 to 64 and $69 for anyone 65 years old and above. A current health insurance policy isn't necessary; mental health care isn't included in the basic services the monthly fee covers.

Alexander said the key to making good on their business pitch was to open the clinic to patients regardless of their insurance history. He noted that 12,000 Lane County residents are on the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid, and many primary care providers don't accept OHP patients. Other low-income residents don't have any coverage or have let their OHP plans lapse.

"The people we interact with on a daily basis, they're so incredibly kind and grateful. We're so excited to offer health services to people who have gone so long without them," he said.

Some of the customers they've seen so far have tried to get appointments at a nearby family practice, but have been told the clinic is full and not accepting new patients, Alexander said.

"Some people just haven't been able to get care" he said.

The state has been promoting a Rural Health Care Quality Network since 2005, in an effort to band together rural hospitals and others with a stake in community health care in order to improve access for patients. The idea is to broaden their access to primary care providers so health issues are addressed before they require emergency care.

Much of that burden lies with local clinics and their doctors.

Falvey and Alexander's prototype has drawn widespread interest as one potential model for attacking rural health care needs. This year alone they have won the grand prize in the Civil War Shark Tank business competition, first prize in the concept stage competition at the Willamette Angel Conference and were voted audience favorite at the Elevating Impact Summit in Portland.

Lane County officials were interested enough in their model, and its potential to be replicated in other rural areas to invest $70,000 of lottery funds in the clinic. Half of the money was a grant, half a loan, with half of the loan forgiven if they got the clinic open this year.

Orchid Health is focusing its outreach on the rural communities in east Lane County for now, Alexander said. But an expansion into Klamath and Lake counties isn't out of the question in the future.

"We're excited to have our staff in place. This is the most gratifying thing me and my cofounder have ever done," he said.

Follow Elon on Twitter @EGlucklich . Email elon.glucklich@registerguard.com .

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